Hotter song 6: If I Have Not Love

I started mentally producing Hotter long before we went into the studio. I figured out not just an idea of how each song would sound but the order of songs and how they would flow into each other. Ideally, after having released Love Hz, a four-song EP, I wanted six songs on this one. I had five. And I didn't have what I wanted to close the record.

So I wrote a song to order, which is something I had never done before. I knew which key I wanted it in. I knew what general feel I wanted. I felt that it should bookend "We Have Only Begun" in some way. And as with that song, I worked out the chords and phrasing but had no lyrics. The deadline was self-imposed, but I really wanted to meet it. I knew I had to finish something to give the band enough time to learn and rehearse it. But I was stuck.

Then Sweetie and I discovered a film that was profoundly affecting. It didn't so much change my life as affirm the path I have been discovering for years. It's always a thrill to recognize when someone thinks the way you do. The film was Cloud Atlas. Sweetie had read the book. I had not but I had read about the film. We rented it on our cable system's video-on-demand service.

It was magnificent! Sweetie helped me through some of the more confusing parts, but overall I didn't find it that difficult to figure out. I didn't love each of the six stories equally, but I did love them all. The one about Sonmi-451 especially. Lots of people can't stand the film, but we loved it so much that we watched it again the next night, before the video-on-demand had expired. If anything, I loved it even more. I didn't have to work as hard to figure out what was going on, so I understood things that I had not the first time.

I wrote the first verse as a take-off on Sonmi's story. The second verse became a more generalized comment, less about the film than about the present world.

I can't remember if I had written the chorus before or after I saw the film. At any rate, that part did not come from the film. It comes from the Christian Bible, the first letter of Paul to the believers in Corinth. It's a famous passage that often is read at weddings. I'm not a Christian, but that passage on love speaks to me. I can't change the world if I don't first change myself.

As sometimes is the case, the song I thought I was writing turned into something else with the band. I love interacting with other musicians! Sometimes I have a very solid idea of how a song should go, but when I don't, I really appreciate input from my band mates. The song began as yet another Cure-wannabe song, a straight ahead post punk rocker. But during the verses and the first chorus, I got T to cut the beat in half on the drums while C continued to play straight time on the bass. It broke out for the instrumental break, backed off again for the bridge, and finally galloped through the final choruses and outro. The original key of E minor was too low for G to sing comfortably, so we bumped it up to F# minor (and I used a capo on the guitar for the second time).

That outline was in place when we went into the studio, but little more. We had barely rehearsed the song, even instrumentally, and even less so all together. It was the most difficult bed track to get. We had saved it for the end of the first day, and we weren't happy with what we had. So we tackled it first thing the next day, before any of us was really awake. Somehow, that worked.

The rest of that day was for lead vocals and second guitar. As with the bed track, we saved this vocal for last, since we were not entirely sure we would have time to finish the song. G had been having some difficulty with what I had written for the chorus, and she said that she didn't think she could get the power we needed with those notes. I was in a bit of a panic at that point, late on the second day in a row of recording. But I didn't want to give up on the song. I asked her something completely unreasonable: if she could rewrite the difficult parts of make it work for her voice and then do the vocal. Amazingly, she didn't say no. She did the rewrite.

When she started doing vocal takes, I could hear in her voice how tired she was. I don't remember what I said, or what Jesse said, but somehow she worked up a final burst of energy. Or maybe it was another shot of bourbon! At any rate, she blasted through that vocal, which she had just rewritten, as though she'd been rehearsing it for weeks. She covered an octave plus two and hit the high A not once but four times, a note she says she can hit only when singing karaoke while drunk. I was blown away. For the second time, I cried.

I'm glad G did such a good job with the vocal, because I'm not nearly as happy with the guitar break. I hadn't really rehearsed it. I had some ideas of what to do, but mostly I was winging it. I played it too safe. Considering all that, I guess I should be happy it came out as well as it did. Some parts I actually like quite a lot, like the final run.

I love all the songs on Hotter, but "If I Have Not Love" has a special place in my heart. It was the difficult child. It needed extra help and extra care. I wasn't sure if it was going to turn out. It took a village, or at least a band, to make it happen. And in the end, it surprised and delighted me. For me, it's the perfect end to the record.

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